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The Lincoln Assassination Eyewitness Appearance in a Vintage Game Show!

Neil Patrick

Lincoln Assassination Witness Samuel James Seymour appears on the iconic 50’s show “I’ve Got a Secret”. The panelists on this show were, left to right (in order of appearance): Bill Cullen, Jayne Meadows, Henry Morgan, and Lucille Ball.

Samuel James Seymour was the last surviving person who had been present in Ford’s Theatre the night of the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. He was from Maryland and lived in Arlington, Virginia in his later years.

Just two months before his death, at age 95, he appeared on the February 9, 1956, episode of the CBS TV quiz show I’ve Got a Secret as a mystery subject, in an episode in which Lucille Ball made an unusual appearance as a guest panelist. Seymour incorrectly gave his age on the show as 96, although his 96th birthday was actually not until March 28, several weeks later. He had been in failing health since February when he fell in a New York City hotel while preparing to appear on I’ve Got A Secret. He came on the show with his left eye swollen. Garry Moore had suggested he not appear, but Seymour insisted. In the episode, he was initially questioned by Bill Cullen but it was Jayne Meadows who guessed Seymour’s claim to fame. Moore generously awarded Seymour the $80.00 he would have won had he stumped the panel, and a can of Prince Albert pipe tobacco from the show’s sponsor, the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, rather than the usual prize of a carton of Winston cigarettes (Seymour did not smoke cigarettes).


When Seymour was five, his godmother, Mrs. George S. Goldsboro, took him to see Our American Cousin. He claimed the two sat in the balcony on the side opposite Lincoln’s box. Seymour reported that “I complained tearfully that I couldn’t get out of the coach because my shirt was torn—anything to delay the dread moment—but Sarah (nurse Sarah Cook) dug into her bag and found a big safety pin. I shook so hard from fright, it caused Sarah to accidentally stab me with the pin. I hollered ‘I’ve been shot! I’ve been shot!'”

Once in the theater, Seymour settled down. He saw the President across the balcony as he was waving and smiling at people. Seymour said “I began to get over the scared feeling I’d had ever since we arrived in Washington, but that was something I never should have done. All of a sudden a shot rang out—a shot that always will be remembered—and someone in the President’s box screamed. I saw Lincoln slumped forward in his seat.”Seymour did not actually see the assassination but did witness Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth jump off the balcony. In fact, he revealed that because he did not know Lincoln was shot or that Booth had shot him, his real concern was for Booth.

Seymour, who made his home in Baltimore, Maryland, for many decades and worked as a carpenter and contractor, died on April 12, 1956, at the home of his daughter Irene (Horn) Hendley in Arlington, Virginia, 15 days after his 96th birthday, two days shy of the 91st anniversary of the Lincoln assassination, and 63 days after his appearance on I’ve Got a Secret. He was survived by five children, 13 grandchildren and 35 great-grandchildren. He was interred at Loudon Park National Cemetery in Baltimore

Neil Patrick

Neil Patrick is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News